The weather factor: how to plan your trip to Iceland around the weather

Today I was browsing through the Iceland discussion board on Tripadvisor when I saw a question from a traveler coming to Iceland this week that was worried about the unfavorable weather forecast for her trip. To protect this person’s identity I’m not going to post a link to the question or quote her directly but basically the question went something like this:

So I’m scheduled to come to Iceland at [insert date] and I see that the long term weather forecast is pretty bad with lots of rain. I’m so bummed out by this – will I see anything in the rain? I’m seriously considering covering my bases by buying a ticket straight onward to Europe where the weather is better – I don’t want to spend my holiday in the rain. 

Just yesterday I wrote a post in my Walking Tour Diary about a couple that joined one of my tours and complained that I was giving them false hopes with posting a lot of photos from sunny Reykjavík in the diary when they arrived a day later and it was cold, kind of windy and raining on top of that. Although they were joking this got me thinking about people’s expectations about the weather in Iceland.

A forecast is just a forecast

This is what the weather forecast looks like on vedur.is

This is what the weather forecast looks like on vedur.is

I’ve often said that the only predictable thing about the weather here is its unpredictability and although our meteorologists try their best to guide us through this uncertainty their forecasts are not exact science. It’s just what is likely to happen based on, well, I don’t know what it’s based on but I’m guessing some mathematical models and experience. If I had a hundred krónur for every time I’ve been disappointed with the weather after checking the weather forecast I’d be pretty rich. I’d also be rich if I had a hundred krónur for every time I’ve been pleasantly surprised.

Another thing to keep in mind regarding the weather forecast is that although it predicts rain it doesn’t mean it’s going to rain all day. Sometimes it does but often it just rains for a few minutes and then it’s over and done with. The weather man can’t tell you how exactly the rain behaves, he can only tell you that it might rain around a certain time in approximately this or that area. So all we might be talking about, in the case of the person mentioned at the beginning of this post, is relatively mild weather with occasional showers – is that a cause to cancel your trip to Iceland?

As a person that spends most of her days outside I suggest you celebrate the rain because it’s not snow, hale or sleet!

Iceland is and is not the weather

I know I’m always saying that the weather here is not as bad as people make it out to be, and I stand by that, but sometimes it’s pretty miserable. But that’s just Iceland and you should look at it as a part of your experience. I can’t think of a more authentic Iceland experience than walking in the cold wind, cursing the weather gods and waiting for the first opportunity to jump inside a cozy cafe for a warm drink or just to hug the radiator. There’s a reason why Lopapeysa is a popular attire.

I’m also just kind of naive in the way that I would think that if someone is looking for a sunny warm holiday they would go to a sunny warm country. You come to Iceland for the nature, the warm and friendly people, the yummy food and odd things like the Penis Museum or being lowered into an empty volcano. Not to wear a bikini (unless you go to the Blue Lagoon or the amazing thermal pools of course).

It’s all about perspective.

I actually think that being cold is basically a state of mind. You can choose to let it affect your holiday or you can seek out advice (on the internet for example)  about how to dress and then follow that advice, decide you are going to enjoy this remarkable country no matter what and focus on all the amazing things you’re seeing and experiencing along the way.

My sister and the sea

My sister and the sea

I met my sister over the weekend and she told me that she was still thinking about our little road trip last spring where we traveled around the ring road for 10 days. She told me it was one of the best travel experiences of her life and a year later she is still encountering things that remind her of our escapades and how thankful she is for this time we spent together.

What’s really interesting about that is the fact that the weather was pretty terrible on that trip. One day it rained so much that we literally couldn’t go out of the car without getting soaked – I’ve never experienced anything quite like it before. The next day we got stuck on top of a mountain in a snow storm. Then we had to skip parts that we really wanted to see because of strong winds. We both got sick and I remember trying keep myself together for three hours on a whale watching tour, where the whales never bothered to show up, while all I wanted to do was call 112 and have a helicopter come to my rescue and bring me to a warm bed.

So how do you plan your trip to Iceland around the weather?

Skógafoss

You don’t. You just pack a bunch of layers, hope for the best and think about my sister and the best trip of her life when the gray clouds start piling up. You’re in Iceland. It’s freaking amazing. Enjoy it.

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17 thoughts on “The weather factor: how to plan your trip to Iceland around the weather”

  1. Lee Roberts says:

    Read your weather thoughts and having been to Iceland in mid April I thought weather could be explained as Micro climates. We could leave Reykjavik sunny and bright and be in a blizzard 30 minutes from the city. In California they look at many of the wine regions as micro climates and distinguish the best regions for different varietals due to these different climates. As a positive, and as a recent tourist it was great to see the fast moving and different climates of Iceland. Elsewhere in the world you have the same weather to contend with in Iceland it seemed that it differed not just on when you were there but where you were! Of course we were just there for 10 days and perhaps we saw the unusual not the typical. That if for you to let you readers know. We thought Iceland and its weather grand !

  2. Wendimere says:

    We just returned from a week in Iceland. The weather was remarkably mild. The first day was even slightly hot. The third day it rained but we didn’t let it spoil our day. You just work around the weather and enjoy the magnificent scenery. We are already planning our next trip. Layers are a must as well as a high quality rain jacket. If you dress well weather shouldn’t disrupt your trip.

  3. Ade says:

    I’m from England so we’re used to changeable weather, and weathermen who can’t 100% know what the weather will do. We’ve learnt to look at the sky, watch the forecast, have a good guess but be prepared. Maybe not so different from Iceland.
    If the weather is bad when I get to Iceland? Well it’s ICELANDIC bad weather, and all the more glamorous for that! I’ll be taking pictures of rain and clouds 🙂

  4. Vivi says:

    Well, i have to say this, as i think it will be quite useful for future travellers to your amazing country: I’m a weather freak myself, big rain hater till recently, as i’m greek and used to the casual sunny weather..

    Me and my husband got married 25th of April, and a few days later we left for our honeymoon in Iceland. Rain and some more rain was awaiting in Reykjavik when we arrived, and the mood was a bit so and so….After that, we set on an 8 day trip around the island, seeing the most magnificent places ever, surrounded only by a vast nature and the sound of the birds, only us and the road for miles and miles..The weather changed like 10 times a day, soaking us and rewarding us 1 hour later by the most divine ray of sunlight…It was a magical experience that not only did it not spoil the mood, but made it even more special…
    By the way, seeing Detifoss alone in heavy snow and thick clouds, or Jokulsarlon in a low fog made it ever more mystique and dreamy that you can imagine..
    All and all, what i mean to say is: Go to Iceland with an open mind and people you love deeply:It will reward your every sense. If on the other hand it’s unblocked sun you’re looking for, well, come to Greece instead!!
    Love to the community,
    Vivi,Thessaloniki

  5. I’ve been to Iceland twice in late March, early April. The weather was a bit raw at times (no worse than Minnesota) but always changing—dramatic skies with the sun breaking through, a day trip to Snaefellsness was made unforgettable by the wild weather. I’ve been to Iceland three times in early to mid October and had glorious weather most of the time, the occasional squall would “freshen” things up. Bring layers and a windbreaker/raincoat and you’ll be fine. If it does rain all day there is plenty to do indoors in Reykjavík. The outdoor pools are a blast when it is raining!

  6. Sandra Holmes says:

    I have been to Iceland twice in the last six months, the last time in January. Although the weather was cold it was very sunny and was able to go on many trips including the South Shore which takes you to Vik. I would still go and holiday in Iceland even if it is raining as there is so much to see and do. The country is steeped in history and has the most wonderful scenery. There is lots to do in Reykjavik and great places to eat. I found the people very friendly and helpful. I come from England where we have our share of rain and odd weather. Please do not let a few drops of water spoil what could be a very enjoyable vacation.

  7. Bevlee says:

    As Oscar Wilde once said, “Conversation about the weather is the last refuge of the unimaginative.” Same as expecting all sunny days in this wonderfully raw iceberg in the North Atlantic. Coming from the tropics myself, I was a bit pleasantly shocked how cold it was even in the summer but never did it dampen any of my plans during my visit. It made for an interesting part of my stay. If anything, it was best to anticipate how windy the day gets. Wearing short summery skirt frolicking around Viðey during summer solstice wasn’t the sanest choice but when you’ve done such an oversight about how the weather can and will change within the day, you carry on and maybe pull out a peace sign near John Lennon’s Imagine Peace Tower when your hands are warm enough after cozying it up in the bonfire. It’s Iceland. There’s nothing like it anywhere else in the world. 🙂

  8. Barb Pickering says:

    I’m taking my first trip to Iceland when summer season ends, like the day it ends. Do you know when that is? I’ve traveled the world and always go in low season, so this is important to me. Hostels are our choice of sleeping. Have you used any of the hostels? How about car rental; any place better than another?

    We fly by the seat of our pants, like excitement, like mixing with the locals, etc. Got any good info for me?

    Thank you SO much. Hope to hear from you very soon. I don’t tweet, do Facebook, etc. I can get on FB, but don’t really use it.

  9. Holly says:

    Hello! I simply love your blog. I’ve been meaning to thank you for all of your insightful tips and tricks! I used your site religiously while planning my own trip to Iceland this past March, and I have to say that my trip would not have been as great as it was without all of your thoughtful advice! I wish my best to you – as a fellow blogger, please let me know if there is anything I can do to help promote you!

    1. mm Auður says:

      Thank you so much Holly, I really appreciate it (and also the Tripadvisor comment) 🙂

  10. Luedia says:

    If you don’t like the weather in iceland just wait five minutes 🙂

  11. Kieran says:

    Having been to iceland in late march this year, i spent a good few months planning my trip, using this website and en.vedur.is and vegagerdin to check the conditions. As the date approached I began to get more worried as there were heavy snows in some areas and we had planned to drive to jokulsarlon from Reykjavik.

    We arrived there to heavy snow which cleared almost as soon as we left the airport – keflavik. During the short journey to Reykjavik we experienced about 4 different changes of weather and finally arrived to bright evening sunshine.

    We managed to complete our drive with a stopover in Vik and only had one moment where we had to turn back (in a white Toyota Yaris!) when we tried to drive to Gulfoss.

    Occasionally we would encounter sudden whiteouts, which would have us peering out the front trying to see the road, but these often did not last for more than 800m before we emerged into bright sunshine again.

    I think what I am trying to say is that the weather in Iceland is part of the adventure, particularly if you drive out. As an Englishman, we pride ourselves on having a capricious climate, but Iceland had more extreme versions of what I was familiar with. Preparing and dealing with that was part of the fun, especially when you are rewarded with incredible scenery, and the nice days feel much more deserving!

  12. Peter Hobley says:

    “There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.” — Sir Rannulph Fiennes

  13. Well said! I went to Iceland last summer with my kids and had possibly the best ever family holiday….but we had possibly the worst ever summer weather! I lived in Iceland as a teenager and still have many friends there. They all said we were unlucky with the weather as it was exceptionally wet and cold for July. But did it spoil our holiday? No of course not. Like you and your sister said about your trip, getting soaked through to the skin only added drama and excitement to the trip. Camping in the heaviest rain I’ve ever experienced with rain dropping through into the tent was something I’ll never foget and again, only added to the drama! Soaking in hotpots in the rain and wind only made it even more of a surreal experience. We didn’t go to Iceland for the weather…we went for the whole experience, for the magnificent scenery, the crazy geothermal activity, the wonderful people, the beautiful nature, etc etc. Nobody anywhere can control weather…you just need to make the most of any situation and be prepared, and if there’s a sudden break in the clouds it just makes it even more spectacular.

  14. Liz says:

    fantastically written!! Your paragraph about why you should come to Iceland is spot on and exactly why we are coming in March, we thought to ourselves if we are going to be cold and wet I’m Canada, why not just be cold and wet in iceland! We will be way happier vacationing there and get to see it’s fabulous sites again!! 🙂 it’s worth it 100 times over to be cold and wet in Reykjavik or any part of your beautiful country! 🙂 can’t wait to return

  15. Dave says:

    I completely agree with your post regarding visiting Iceland and embracing its weather, however it may be. I will be there in under 3 weeks, and I want to experience what winter is like on the far side of the world. Here, in northern Western Australia, it’s hot, humid, arid, beautiful…I could go on, but you get the picture. I grew up in the tropics of north eastern Australia….that is hot, humid, lush, green, monsoonal, etc, etc.
    I want to experience something different. I think I’ve planned well for the cold, the rain and the mountains…but in the end, I’ll happily take whatever the weather gods dish out because I want an adventure to remember…as I may never do this again 🙂

  16. Deidre Weiss says:

    Loved this post. My husband works for one of the airlines that flies to Reykjavik and we were planning to cancel our trip for this weekend when we saw that the weather forecast indicates rain is likely. However, after reading your lovely words, I reversed my negative thoughts and can’t wait to go!

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